Biofeedback encompasses many scientifically based, self-therapeutic techniques that have proved successful when used by people suffering from a variety of illnesses and disorders.
A simple definition of biofeedback is that it is information—or feedback—about an individual's biological functions. The basic idea of biofeedback training is to provide individuals with increased information about what is going on inside their bodies and their brains. By watching an instrument give continuous measurements of a bodily function, a person can experiment with different thoughts, feelings, and sensations and get immediate feedback on the physical effects.
Recent advances in technology have produced extremely reliable instruments that measure and respond to very slight changes in the body and are capable of feeding back via lights, sounds, and meters, changes in temperature as small as one-tenth to one-hundredth of a degree, or changes just one or two beats per minute in heart rate, or very small blood pressure changes and minute changes in muscle tension. With practice under the care and guidance of a trained professional, and with the data provided by the sensitive equipment, the trainee can learn to alter their heart rate, or modulate their respiration, or increase skin temperature in parts of their body, and ultimately learn to control their physiological reactions in the treatment of their disorders.
History of Biofeedback Training
Biofeedback initially emerged as result of a theoretical controversy rather than as a practical solution to clinical problems. Neil Miller challenged the assumption that the autonomic nervous system could not be operatively conditioned. The field that deals most directly with information processing and feedback is called Cybernetics. A basic principle of cybernetics is that one cannot control a variable unless information, or feedback, about the variable is made available. Another principle of cybernetics is that feedback makes learning possible. In applied biofeedback, trainees receive clear and direct feedback about their states and this information helps them learn to control such functions, leading to a healthier lifestyle.
Several cultural factors contributed to the development of applied biofeedback. The gradual merging of the traditions of the East and West is one major factor. The rise in popularity of schools of meditation and "consciousness expanding" also played a part. Yoga and Zen masters have claimed for centuries to be able to alter their physiological states significantly through meditation. Related phenomena presumably occur in some forms of biofeedback experiences. This is how biofeedback got the nicknames "the Yoga of the West" and "electronic Zen". The rapid rise of health care costs in the United States has prompted a need for cost-effective, non-pharmacological treatments and has ushered in an era of "preventative medicine" and holistic, nontraditional care.
Today, there has been a shift in the way people take care of themselves, and many are taking a more active role in self-regulating their health, by maintaining regular exercise regimens, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, eating healthy foods and accepting responsibility for their own physical and spiritual well-being. Biofeedback therapies enhance these efforts at greater self-regulation, wellness and growth.
Feedback Electromyography (EMG)
Feedback EMG is the process of monitoring displaying to the trainee the ongoing contraction and relaxation patterns generated by their skeletal muscles. Its objective is to heighten proprioceptive awareness of the mechanisms of muscle posture and to develop voluntary control over dysfunctional, semi-voluntary or involuntary muscle activity. The achievement of muscoskeletal control skills has direct clinical applications in both physical medicine (neuromuscular reeducation) and in the redress of psychological, psychosomatic, and stress-related disorders.
It has long been recognized that chronic muscle tension, a state in which an individual is continually stiff, or braced, can be an indication of an ongoing stress response. Myographic feedback can play a major role in improving the trainee's awareness of both the objective physiological indications of inappropriate stress response and the mechanisms involved in their generation and maintenance.
By learning to voluntarily control affected muscles, trainees can achieve significant clinical improvement. This improvement results from a variety of factors: First, when acute or chronic muscle tension directly contributes to the trainee's distress, relaxation of the affected muscles can relieve the discomfort. Second, the feedback of observable and objective indications of the trainee's condition can facilitate the trainee's acceptance and understanding of the problem. Third, the achievement of deep muscle relaxation can contribute to the trainee's overall relaxation and have significant clinical impact on stress-related disorders. Fourth, direct control of previously involuntary muscle activity serves to improve the trainee's sense of self-control, self-responsibility, and self-image.
As a result, the trainee may become more understanding of and less defensive towards other therapeutic procedures and recommendations. Another major application of feedback electromyography is in the neuromuscular retraining of partially to seriously dysfunctional muscles. As a muscle rehabilitation tool, feedback myography can easily be integrated into current physical therapy procedures, and can make a substantial contribution toward patient recovery.
Feedback Encephalography (EEG)
Feedback encephalography is the process of monitoring and displaying to an individual the ongoing EEG activity generated in by their brain. Its most common clinical application is to redress a chronic mental posture constituting a component of a psychosomatic or psychological disorder. Many individuals suffering from stress-related disorders exhibit excessive mental arousal and rumination associated with high-frequency (beta) EEG activity. Characteristically, these individuals do not experience periodic mental relaxation associated with synchronized alpha EEG activity. By learning to enhance the generation of EEG alpha activity, such individuals may cultivate a more normal mental posture and thus modify a portion of maladaptive psychosiological mechanisms, which tend to perpetuate or exacerbate their condition.
The electroencephalographic potentials emitted by the human brain provide one of the few objective measurements of activity of the human central nervous system. While the sources and mechanics are not fully understood, EEG potentials originate in the firing mechanisms of neurons and travel along the surface of the cerebral cortex as well as through deeper layers of the brain. There are four basic types of EEG patterns, classified according to their frequency (number of Hertz or cycles-per-second). They are beta, 12-20Hz, alpha, 8-12Hz, theta, 4-8Hz, and delta, 0-4Hz. In adults, each of these frequency bands represents a specific mental arousal level, and is associated with a set of generalized behavioral correlates. It should be emphasized, however, that individuals might differ somewhat in terms of their subjunctive experiences of these EEG states.
In feedback electroencephalography, EEG activity is detected by surface electrode sensors attached to the scalp - then amplified, analyzed, and translated into visual and auditory feedback displays. By receiving immediate and continuous information reflecting EEG frequency and amplitude fluctuations, the trainee can learn to recognize and associate specific patterns of EEG activity with discernible mental and physiological states. With time, this can generate desired EEG activity and its mental and physiological connection.
Biofeedback: Using your mind to improve your health
Follow the link below to an article by the Mayo Clinic regarding how Biofeedback can help you to use your mind to manage certain medical conditions. Find out which ones, whether it's right for you and how it's done.